'Clean eating,' a food craze that gained momentum and popularity in 2017, shows no sign of slowing down as we move into 2018.
But what does "clean" really mean when it comes to food and eating habits? When the trend started, it generally meant eating more whole grains, less meat and more fresh or minimally processed fruits and veggies, preferably in season and locally grown.
There's nothing wrong, and much that's right, with choosing to eat simple, cooked-from-scratch food at home. Over time, however, the concept has taken on a more righteous (even elitist) tone, implying that people who buy canned or packaged foods, or otherwise don't follow a strict "clean eating" lifestyle, are ignorant or careless or downright lazy. There is no quarter given for long working hours, short growing seasons, small food budgets and fussy children.
But there is another, less judgmental, way to look at "clean" versus "dirty" food, one that supports healthful choices by paying more attention to potentially hazardous pesticides than to the perfect formula for green juice.
Every year the Environmental Working Group analyzes tests conducted on 48 different types of conventionally grown produce by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration and releases a list of what it calls the Dirty Dozen -- the 12 fresh foods sampled that contain the highest concentrations of pesticide residues. This year's "dirtiest" fruits and vegetables, in order, are:
Sweet bell peppers
"The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides," EWG writes in its 2017 release, and "spinach samples had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three-fourths of spinach samples also had residues of a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for use on food crops -- part of a class of pesticides that recent studies link to behavioral disorders in young children."
Babies and young children are most at risk from exposure to high levels of toxic chemical -- and one way to protect them is to keep the Dirty Dozen list in mind when you go to the grocery store. You can cut down on the number and amount of pesticides that you and your family are exposed to by choosing organically grown strawberries or celery or potatoes or other fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list -- or, if organic is not available or doesn't fit your budget, by substituting a less-contaminated variety of conventionally grown produce.
EWG can help you do that, too, with the Clean Fifteen -- a list of the conventionally grown produce least likely to contain pesticide residues. The Clean Fifteen includes a number of good, readily available choices:
Frozen sweet peas
Avocados and sweet corn are the cleanest entries on the list, with only one percent of these samples showing any detectable pesticides.
For more information about The Dirty Dozen, The Clean Fifteen, EWG's methodology and other EWG environmental health projects, visit ewg.org.